Not very long ago, during the first Thompson/Avella debate for the Democratic nomination for mayor, we got to see in rather stark microcosm the problem we face with a press corps far too pliantly in the thrall of official Bloomberg mythology.
Debating your opponent is difficult enough but it’s a truly formidable challenge when the debate’s moderator steps in to contradict you on behalf of an opponent (Bloomberg) who isn’t even there. It must be especially frustrating to be contradicted with incorrect information tossed into the discussion.
That’s what happened during the debate when perhaps the most important issue of the campaign, Bloomberg’s political use of wealth, was being discussed. Debate moderator Dominic Carter interrupted candidate Tony Avella. Why? Apparently Carter had it in mind to speak up for the heartfelt honesty of Bloomberg’s charitable giving. Really now!
More Than “Moderately” Off Track
Here is what happened. The debate was getting into its final third. Dominic Carter had asked about whether the huge amount of Bloomberg’s personal spending on his own political campaign wasn’t good because it saved the taxpayers money. (The answer is no, it isn’t good and no it doesn’t save the taxpayer money, but we will get back to that.) Carter then segued into asking, in a rather loaded way, whether Bloomberg’s charitable giving wasn’t “a good thing.” Here is the exchange between Mr. Carter and the candidates, Bill Thompson and Tony Avella.
Carter: And, and we’re going back to the questions in one second, but is it also a good thing [Note: “also” assumes, for starters, that the excessive Bloomberg campaign spending is good] that he [Bloomberg] donates so much of his money to organizations in New York City that desperately need dollars?
Thompson: Contributions with no strings attached are something that’s admirable. Contributions with strings attached and expectations- . . . Something’s wrong with that.(Applause from the audience.)
Avella: These. . . You know this is. . . You know we talk about the $200 million that the mayor is going to spend, Mike Bloomberg is going to spend on reelection. We don’t know what the real figure is on how much money he’s donating to the nonprofits. It’s a good thing but there are strings attached. He’s in effect buying their silence as to how the city is truly running. And that’s a disgrace because he’s not donating that money for charitable purposes. He’s donating that money as an extension of the campaign.(We wonder whether Avella was caught off guard and didn’t know precisely how to respond to Carter’s interjection of off-base information.)
Carter: (interrupting to protest): But, but, but Mr. Avella, but he’s only, but Mr. Avella, he’s donated money YEARS in advance of running for public office.
Avella: But not as much. Not as much, and the focus has changed dramatically, and we all know that.(At this point Mr. Carter broke things off as he chose that particular moment to remind the candidates about the rules for responding to questions.)
And Where Does Mr. Carter Get His Information?
Does Mr. Carter have access to information that none of the rest of us have? (But, but, but Mr. Avella, but he’s only, but Mr. Avella, he’s donated money YEARS in advance of running for public office. !?!) We have already researched and written about the connection in time between the mayor’s charitable giving and his political career. (See: Monday, February 2, 2009, The Good News IS the Bad News: Thanks A lot for Mayor Bloomberg’s “Charity.”)
Since we wrote about how Bloomberg misuses charities for political purposes the New York Times added to the record with a story in August (the month of the debate) about the mayor illegally sending City Hall fund donations to nonprofits for political purposes. (See: City Hall Broke Rules Funneling Money to Groups, by Michael Barbaro and Ray Rivera, August 3, 2009.)
When last we wrote on the subject we observed that Bloomberg’s “giving” began to be prominently highlighted starting in 1997:
Bloomberg’s “giving” began to be prominently highlighted in a series of articles about philanthropic giving corresponding in time to when his quest to become mayor began. Bloomberg’s quest was public information as of 1998. Bloomberg participated as an interviewee in several of these articles, including one, the theme of which, was the value of giving conspicuously. (See: Lone Rangers Of Charity Are Losing Their Masks, By Geraldine Fabrikant and Shelby White, February 2, 1997, Why Do We Donate? It's Personal, by Susan Jacoby, December 9, 1997, It's All in Who You Know (and Who They Know), by Shelby White, November 18, 1998 and Neighbors Give Central Park a Wealthy Glow, By Blaine Harden, November 22, 1999.)
Similar articles about Bloombergian “giving” do not seem to have appeared before this time.We also wrote, citing contemporaneous Times articles back in 1997/1998, that Bloomberg’s charitable presence was then viewed as new upon the scene, the Times writing that “He is becoming ubiquitous on the charity circuit.” (Emphasis supplied.)
1997: An Even Tighter Correlation Than We Thought
O.K., Bloomberg’s “giving” began to be prominently highlighted in 1997. When does Bloomberg’s interest in being mayor date back to? It also dates back 1997.
The match-up is even more clear to us now than when we were writing about this before. Since then, we discovered that the match-up between Bloomberg’s interest’s in politics (1997 as opposed to 1998) and the 1997 date when we find his prominent “giving” coordinates even more exactly than we thought.
In Joyce Purnick’s new biography of Bloomberg, Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics, which (officially published this week, on September 28th) Ms. Purnick recounts the surfacing of Bloomberg’s interest in being mayor and president (page 81 of the book).
The first media mention of Bloomberg’s political aspirations appeared in the Financial Times, during his 1997 book tour, slipped into an interview, it would seem by one Michael R. Bloomberg. “He would quite like to be president of the US, but accepts that it would be a tall order to arrange,” wrote the reporter, Raymond Snoddy. “Instead, he is thinking about running for mayor of New York.” That article, all of 497 words, generated a buzz.First Brewed Up When?
* * * *
Once planted, dutifully reported and repeated the notion of a mayoral run developed a life of its own, with substantial encouragement from the antsy Bloomberg and from fellow business tycoons. . .
So the political aspirations and the “giving” both surfaced in 1997, the same year as the “Bloomberg by Bloomberg” book tour. ((That’s Bloomberg by Bloomberg: By Bloomberg- With invaluable help from Matthew Winkler.) But when do you think this actually began? Don’t you think that some preparation and lead time was required for the 1997 surfacing of these events whose concurrence was more likely coordinated than coincidence? Was the book and book tour coordinated as well? Seems so- - Read on.
Bloomberg’s Book: Mentioning Charity in a Transition to Politics
“Bloomberg by Bloomberg” isn’t exactly full of early mentions of Bloomberg’s charitable giving. They almost all come at the end of book, but here is one of the first mentions, something about charity that is choicely apt if one were indeed thinking of running for mayor:
A favorite philanthropic cause to which I have long been dedicated is the New York City Fire Widow’s and Children Benefits Fund. The unhappy purpose of this mostly Wall Street charity is to provide funds to the widows of the newly fallen officers and firefighters who died protecting us. Unfortunately, the list of beneficiaries grows longer each year.This tidbit is inserted in the middle of a juxtaposition of how revered Bloomberg declares police and firemen should be (“My support for a well disciplined and fully civilian accountable police and firefighter force comes from what I learned as a child.”) versus how unappealing “politicians” can be (this starts on page 230):
It’s unfortunate that we don’t always have the same feeling of service, when thinking of politicians, another group whose (sic) salaries we pay. It’s true that other than election time, the concept of whose working for whom does get a little foggy.Note: It becomes clear on the next page (231) that he is very definitely thinking of politics
* * * *
Poll after poll shows that people rank elected and appointed officials at the bottom of the most respected list . . .
Politics, no matter what the cynical say, is a noble profession.The Running Gag
And then gets to the subject of running for mayor himself:
In a democracy we need good, smart, hardworking people to run for office. We need choice from which to select able souls to run for office.What a coy ploy! The reverse psychology “I’m not interested” gambit in order to pursue public office. We beg to differ with Ms. Purnick, we don’t think that “The first media mention of Bloomberg’s political aspirations appeared in the Financial Times, during his 1997 book tour.” To us it looks like the first media mention is right in Bloomberg’s own book.
* * *
I’ve never run for political office myself. . . . If I ever ran, it would be for a job in the executive branch of government - - mayor, governor, or president. I think I’d be great in any of these three executive jobs that mirror my experience. (Those wanting competent government needn’t worry. I have no plans to enter the public arena.)
The ploy ought to have been recognized by Purnick as her own book has an entire chapter (Twelve: “See Mike Not Run”) about the ploy’s reuse when Bloomberg campaigned to become president, something he did from 2005 far into the 2008 season when Obama was ultimately elected. “No. No. No. Wink. Wink Wink.” writes Purnick explaining how “at the same time, his aides let it be known that Bloomberg could spend whatever he wanted on running for President. , , `a billion-dollar* campaign’” (pane 164).
(* Comparatively, Obama shattered records by raising only three-quarters of a billion.)
Charity? Scratch That: Charity and Politics Delivered With a Requisite “Quid Pro Quo”
Interestingly, on the next page of Bloomberg’s own book, right after discussing his interest in politics (p. 233), Bloomberg’s “non-interest” appeal for the office of mayor transitions into a melded discussion of what he refers to as the “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” aspects of making both political and charitable donations. This is part of what he says (emphasis supplied):
I find it infuriating when my former wife asks our old friends to help with her fund raising and they ignore her. How dare they, considering all those years both she and I together supported their charities and political candidates? People need to understand that life, like it or not, has to be quid pro quo.Now doesn’t that sound rather like someone putting everyone on notice that he is calling in his markers? (Recall now candidate Bill Thompson’s caution that there is something wrong with “Contributions with strings attached and expectations”?)
1994: Enter An Experienced “Political Operative”
Bloomberg’s book, copyrighted 1997, was released at least by May. Let’s guess when the idea of the book’s encapsulated launching of Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign was conceived? Here is a critical clue: In recounting how Bloomberg mounted his campaign, Ms. Purnick tells us (p. 84) that the “pivotal partner” in a “team of experienced political operatives” was “Patricia `Patti’ Harris.” Patricia Harris was a New York City official who came out of the Koch administration where she was a former director of the Arts Commission. She was hired by Bloomberg at Bloomberg, L.P. in 1994. We would suspect that it’s a very good wager that the idea for the 1997 book’s launch of Bloomberg’s political aspirations came either immediately before or immediately after Ms. Harris’s 1994 hiring.
(If you think Harris’s interest in playing political angles waned after leaving public office you should consider the probability that is more likely in her blood. In 1998 while employed privately at Bloomberg and presumably a well-paid, private citizen, Harris was getting free parking permits at the expense of the city, along with the likes of such other notable non-city employees as Bruce Ratner.)
A Political Operative With the “Sole Job” of Dispensing Bloomberg’s “Philanthropy”
Bloomberg’s 1997 book which doesn’t acknowledge Ms. Harris’s role in his political campaign (as noted it doesn’t actually acknowledge he was already running at all) describes Ms. Harris as follows (p 248 in the first edition- Emphasis supplied):
Like many other companies with a feeling of community service, we employ a full-time person, Patti Harris, whose sole job is to decide which philanthropic activities are appropriate for our company and to ensure we get our money’s worth when we donate our time, money and jobs.“Sole job?” Is Ms. Purnick wrong about Harris’s role as a “pivotal partner” in a “team of experienced political operatives”? The New York City government website bio for Ms. Harris says that at Bloomberg, L.P. Ms. Harris was also in charge of the “Public Relations, and Governmental Affairs divisions.”
Bloomberg-Style Giving: Putting Bloomberg, L.P. First
Bloomberg in his book continues immediately on to inform us more about Ms. Harris’s theoretical sole function overseeing his “philanthropic” endeavors:
One of Patti’s questions [apparently the very FIRST] is, When does helping others help us? . . A third [THIRD?] is based on compassion- - sometimes we’ve just got to do it anyway.The FIRST question about “giving” is when does it help the giver? Bloomberg explains more about why he gives and we hear that he does so when:
. . . it will be useful to our company later in our commercial activities.What it Is Better to Receive than to Give
Not only does Patti commit our dollars, she follows, influences and directs how our gifts are used ensuring our objectives are met.
Sounds to us, however, like Ms. Harris follows the influence of the money. In fact, we have written before about how Ms. Harris’s combined her two most prominently highlighted functions of “political operative” and dispenser of “philanthropic” largess through a very simple expedient. Known as the “velvet hammer,” Ms. Harris after becoming Deputy Mayor has called the recipients of Bloomberg charitable gifts to exercise political influence over them. Her script? Supporting Bloomberg opponents is “unfriendly or disloyal" and makes Bloomberg not `happy.’ (See: Sunday, April 12, 2009, Bloomberg Update: Fire and Ice (Part I).) Making matters worse, when Bloomberg became mayor in January 2002 , he and Deputy Mayor Harris also took over control of dispensing public funding in connection with which Ms. Harris’s tactics are similarly an issue.
Bloomberg and Harris: Buried Differences
Ms. Harris is so trusted and relied upon by Bloomberg it is virtually impossible to distinguish the two of them. She is now the First Deputy Mayor, who assumes control when Bloomberg leaves New York. Ms. Purnick’s book tells us that Ms. Harris “picked” Mr. Bloomberg’s “burial plot” (somewhere in NYC) and although Mr. Bloomberg doesn’t know where it is, she does. Last month the New York Times reported that in a highly unprecedented move, Bloomberg “has quietly given at least $1 million* to stamp the name of his most trusted deputy [Ms. Harris] at City Hall on a new academic center at her alma mater, Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.”. (See: A Mayor Prizing Loyalty Pays Costly Tribute to His Top Aide, by Michael Barbaro, September 1, 2009.)
(* Though this figure may astound, it can be put in perspective by looking at the $235 million Ms. Harris was charged with distributing in 2008.)
(Photo from the Times Story.)
1994-1997: Bed-Fellowed Introductions Made
According to the Times, Bloomberg’s use of his fortune “to pay tribute to a current city employee” is “a gesture that historians said had no precedent in the city government.” Noting that Ms. Harris “has an extraordinarily close relationship with the mayor” the Times credits Ms. Harris (just as we have been saying above) with getting Mr. Bloomberg launched (simultaneously or sequentially?) in both philanthropy and politics:
Known as Mr. Bloomberg’s consigliere and sounding board, she helped introduce him to the worlds of the arts and philanthropy when he was a businessman, and then paved the way for his entry into politics, handpicking the staff for his 2001 campaign.Again, regarding whether this was simultaneous or sequential, it was apparently between 1994 and the writing of his book that materialized in 1997.
A Tribute to Where Loyalties Lie
Describing Bloomberg’s huge gift as an example of the kind of “anomaly” that has become “commonplace” in the Bloomberg administration the Times said:
. . several historians and experts on good government said the gift violated no government ethics rules, but they raised the possibility, that Ms. Harris’s loyalties would be to Mr. Bloomberg rather than to taxpayers.We think the issue of Ms. Harris’s loyalties was already resolved. Among other things, Deputy Mayor Harris is reportedly assured that after leaving government she will continue administering the dispensation of Bloomberg’s philanthropies, a postion she has never relinquished.
Ms. Harris also oversees the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission which puts her in a prime position for additional quid pro quoing in the area of real estate. There has certainly been some evidence of this in the Bloomberg administration, some of it interrelated with charitable giving.
Ms. Purnick In Bloombergian Thrall?
As asserted by Fred Siegel’s review of her book in the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Purnick is probably much too easy on Bloomberg. He says her book “is mostly an admiring portrait of the man and his mayoralty” and that Ms. Purnick “who had extensive access to the mayor and his staff” “sees Mr. Bloomberg as he would like to see himself.” We concur. For instance, we note how Ms. Purnick telegraphs the famous myth that Bloomberg can actually be viewed as admirably above politics (even though she ascribes the notion to Bloomberg’s “fellow business tycoons”): “Given his resources he could rise above the sordid politics of New York.” (P. 81)
Further, if you are heeding what we have already laid out here, we think she similarly gets the narrative arc wrong when she says (p.79) that Bloomberg was already “noted philanthropist” when he “decided to switch careers”into politics. We suspect that the reason that Bloomberg called to introduce himself to Barbara Walters out of the blue “one day in the mid -1990's” (p. 55) and the reason that Ms. Purnick herself first met Bloomberg “in the late 1990s at a dinner party in his Manhattan townhouse” with Dan Rather and Peter Jennings (p.1) is that Bloomberg wanted to go into politics and get noted as a philanthropist at roughly the same time. In fact, on the very next page Ms. Purick says that this was when Bloomberg’s philanthropy was not yet very well known! - (p.2 )
We note that Ms. Purnick, a long-time urban affairs correspondent for the New York Times, was “named deputy editor of the Metro department, the largest news department of The Times, at the start of 1997." The cover of her book says that “she has, so far, covered six mayors.” She is married to Max Frankel, the former executive editor of The Times.
Ms. Purnick on Chilly Charity
Even if Ms. Purnick is favorably biased toward Mr. Bloomberg, she provides some worthwhile confirmations about the political aspects of Mr. Bloomberg’s “charity.” Ms. Purnick, who admits that sizing up Bloomberg’s philanthropic activities involves “guesswork,” assesses its political impact thus (p. 196):
It also does the mayor good. It helps him as surely as doling out government pork helps the less financially endowed politician, maybe more so.She quotes David Jones, head of the Community Service Society, who admits being less critical of Bloomberg’s housing policy because of the “bribe”/donation his charitable organization received. Mr. Jones says (p. 196):
But I think the personal funding has clearly kept the not-for-profit community very pro-Bloomberg. It chills dissent. You are going to watch what you say.Siegel Suckered by Bloomberg Myth Too?
While Fred Siegel may scorn Ms. Purnick’s credulous acceptance of Bloomberg’s preferred view of himself, we think Mr. Siegel himself succumbs to a key Bloomberg promulgated myth in his WSJ review when he writes:
It is certainly true that Mr. Bloomberg hasn't used his political power to aggrandize himself financially—there is no need for that.(He goes on to assert that “New York is once again in fiscal peril” because of Bloomberg’s expenditures of public funds to aggrandize “the greater Bloomberg glory.” Siegel gives different examples but we wonder if Mr. Siegel could have been thinking of Mr. Bloomberg’s expenditure of post 9/11 federal recovery funds on his pet Waterfalls project?)
Is it correct to assert that Mr. Bloomberg hasn’t aggrandized himself financially with this interweaving of “philanthropic” spending and accretion of political power?
Bloomberg’s “Bottom Line” on Giving
Tellingly, Mr. Bloomberg chooses to end his 1997 book talking about his philanthropy as dispensed by Patti Harris. In the penultimate paragraph he says this about his “giving”:
It all helps the bottom line.The last sentence of the book? This:
Give something back and you will wind up with something more!The Technical Answer to What Was Incorrectly Presupposed
That brings us back to Dominic Carter’s questions and more of what was said on the night of the Thompson/Avella mayoral debate. We turn to what led into the discussion we quoted from at the beginning of this post.
Dominic Carter asked Tony Avella the following question:
And does he [Bloomberg] at the end of the day, deserve any credit for using his own money? I mean there are some people who that believe it is a good thing that he is financing his own campaign. He don’t deserve any credit for that Mr. Avella?There is actually a direct simple technical answer to this question: Bloomberg’s campaign expenditures do not save the taxpayers money as Mr. Carter went of to suggest a moment later. Though Bloomberg himself has tried to promote the idea that it saves the taxpayers money, it actually costs the taxpayers (as Dominic Cart’s own NY1 has covered) because under the campaign finance law competing publicly financed mayoral candidates qualify for millions of additional matching funds if they face a non-participating opponent like Bloomberg who is not limiting his spending. (See: Friday, February 6, 2009, The-Not-So “Ridiculous” “Outrage” of the Mayor’s Campaign Spending: Getting the Whole Story.)
Avella’s Nontechnical Answer Goes Back to Bloomberg’s Bottom Line
Mr. Avella did not go with the technical answer. In fact, he jumped quite a few steps ahead to question whether the public isn’t actually paying another price when Bloomberg deploys his “own” resources? In essence, he raised the question of whether Bloomberg’s resources should actually be considered really his own if Bloomberg nets more than he spends to campaign by virtue of being in office:
Avella: No, ah. . So he is taking a dollar a year. How is it, how is it that when he became mayor he was worth $3 billion* and somehow, even though the economy of the United States was on the downturn he’s now worth between $16 and $18 billion.* You cannot tell me that he didn’t use the position of mayor to further his own financial wealth. And I know, as chairman of Zoning and Franchises. . . I believe that he used the information in his office through Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff to help his company when it came to negotiations with the cable franchise renewals. And I think that actually came out in part in the New York Times. It’s amazing to me how he was able to increase his financial wealth multi-fold, yet somehow he didn’t see the financial crisis coming on the scene to New York City.(* Forbes said that Bloomberg was worth $1.3 billion in 1997 when he first openly embarked on his political path. In 2008 Forbes gave a figure of $20 billion for his wealth which has since been reduced by losses.)
Mr. Avella’s knowledgeable skepticism about the escalation of Mr. Bloomberg’s personal bottom line is refreshing. What is Bloomberg’s focus and “bottom line” purpose?
It’s obvious that there was once a Bloomberg who wrote in his 1997 book that the FIRST consideration of charity was helping Bloomberg, L.P. We must therefore necessarily ask whether this Bloomberg who previously looked at charity primarily in terms of being “useful to our company later in our commercial activities” and who dismissed compassionate intention as something two-steps down the list that “sometimes we’ve just got to do it anyway” has somehow transformed into a different Bloomberg? - - Is the current Michael Bloomberg a man who, with the help of Patricia Harris, simply substituted political goals for his former economic ones, or is it conceivable that our New York mayor is just the same old fellow who is still quite focused, when giving, on how “It all helps the bottom line”? In other words, when Bloomberg takes a salary of $1 a year, is he “giving” the rest of his salary back to the taxpayers without his formerly requisite quid pro quo? Or is he still acting in the expectation that for his “giving” he will “wind up with something more!”
If the answer could simply be answered by looking at how Bloomberg’s wealth has escalated it would seem to be evident. If the answer could be answered in terms of the opportunity for conflicts of interest that exist or the way the mayor disregards them, the answer would also be clear. The cable franchise negotiation mentioned by Mr. Avella is certainly not the only conflict-of-interest situation Bloomberg has that positions him well to make money by virtue of his City Hall office.
Coming to Terms With a Lack of Limits When Conflicts Build on Conflicts
If you want to read about how the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board is failing to rein in Mr. Bloomberg, read our earlier work. If you want to read the very latest on the subject, including how some of the recent problems in the reining in of Mr. Bloomberg result specifically from “ties to city funding and the mayor’s fortune that raise questions about their own potential conflicts” read: City Board Set Up to Monitor Ethics May Have Conflicts of Its Own, by David W. Chen, September 6, 2009. All five members of that board are now members appointed y Mr. Bloomberg himself. (They have six-year terms.)
By way of dismissing the conflicts of the Conflicts board, Steven B. Rosenfeld, chairman of the board (appointed by Bloomberg), said that some members of the board “were not aware of the mayor’s philanthropy or the city’s grants to the groups they were involved with.” The Times goes on quoting Mr. Rosenfeld:
“I really do reject the suggestion that we’re giving anyone any easy ride because of who they are or how much money they have,” he said
Still, the board was roundly criticized last year for allowing the City Council to tear up the term limits law, a move that Mr. Bloomberg supported so he could seek a third term.Back to Debating Where Credit is Due
The debate proceeded with Thompson picking up the critical theme though more gently (or naively?) he does not speculate about whether the mayor’s multiplying wealth is somehow coming from his public position.
Thompson: Do I think he deserves credit for spending obscene amounts of money to try and convince the. . Or to try to buy the votes?(Applause from the audience.)
Carter: But is there something to be said for the man using his own money and not being forced to use taxpayer money? [We reiterate, it actually COSTS taxpayers money.]
Thompson: Dominic, New York City has probably the best public finance law in the nation. If Mike Bloomberg wanted to get credit, then spend his own money and adhere to the same levels. But spending in excess of a $100, $150 million dollars or $200 million dollars- You don’t get credit for that. No! Because it’s your money? Because you are using it to try to influence and taint a process? No, you don’t get credit for that.
And that comes back to where we started this piece with Mr. Carter then asking:
Carter: And, and we’re going back to the questions in one second, but is it also a good thing that he donates so much of his money to organizations in New York City that desperately need dollars?Topping the Important Topics In This Piece
Is this piece about Bloomberg’s spending hundreds of millions every year in “charity” ($235 million last year, $205 million the year before- much higher figures if you talk about the City Hall money that Bloomberg also controls) bent toward political purposes? Is this piece about how Bloomberg’s “charity,” spent with his self-confessed quid-pro-quoism, focuses on Bloomberg, L.P’.s bottom line? Is this about how Bloomberg’s pursuit of politics and retention of the office of mayor has helped him multiply his wealth multi-fold?
No. Those are all extremely important topics. We are glad they came up during the debate. In all probability these topics are more important than anything else that was discussed the night of the debate or could have been discussed even though the New York Times the next morning (In Face-Off, Rivals Take On Bloomberg, By David W. Chen, August 26, 2009) made no mention of the exchanges we have been reporting here. The Times lead-in was: “Neither of them has ever been arrested, or gotten into a fistfight as an adult. Neither has had the time to set foot in either of the city’s new baseball stadiums.” Reading what the Times wrote about whether the swine flu outbreak could have been handled better or whether the city should name a subway station or street after Michael Jackson, you would probably come away thinking that the candidates discussed mostly trivial things.
Bloomberg’s use of his wealth is an important subject, far from trivial. Still, that’s not what we are talking about here. What we are talking about instead is what an uphill battle it is going to be to have these issues properly aired if the media doesn’t treat them seriously and is a source of misinformation about the situation. After all, when is the last time you can think of when a debate moderator interfered with a debate, breaking into it to debate a candidate on behalf of someone who was not even there by furnishing misinformation such an important issue?
Do we hear Mr. Carter interrupting at this point?
But, but, but Mr. Noticing New York, but he’s only, but Mr. Noticing New York . . .Take Bloomberg at His Own Word? Term Limits and the Hypocrisy of a “Reelection at All Cost Mentality”
The Times account of the debate ends observing that when Mr. Thompson threw Mr. Avella a “softball question” asking “what was the worst thing that Mr. Bloomberg had done” Mr. Avella laughed, stating that it was Bloomberg’s overturning of term limits. That is a respectable note on which to have ended the article. Term limits, overridden only by some very tricky, ignoble and hardball stratagems to sidestep a voter referendum, were probably the only thing that would have brought an end to the vicious circle of Bloomberg’s wealth accretion and influence the city now confronts.
On the other hand, perhaps like Dominic Carter, taking Mr. Bloomberg at his word, we should believe about him what he would like us to believe, that his giving is above politic and his interest in politics is a thing separate from the Bloomberg, L.P. bottom line. Given the spectacle of Mr. Bloomberg’s override of term limits we thought it might be good to give Mr. Bloomberg the last word here. In his 1997 book, right after noting that “Poll after poll shows that people rank elected and appointed officials at the bottom of the most respected list” (to tee-up the reasons he should run for office) Mr. Bloomberg observes:
I am certainly not above taking cheap shots at politicians’ hypocrisy and their “reelection at all costs” mentality, but no one in public service deserves that much vilification!